Some time ago I spoke to a number of fellow Business Development and Marketing peers within the legal industry who all agreed that as business developers, our roles are increasingly focused on internal communications. The conversation started at an industry round table focused on sales within law firms. The general sentiment, especially at senior levels of the Magic Circle/Top Tier and Global Elite firms around the table, was that as business developers, senior partners are looking to them to connect the dots between isolated opportunities around the Firm and bring relevant parties together to maximise those opportunities ten-fold. But that is what BD does correct?
Well on one level, yes. But I am not sure in any of the roles I have been in, nor any role descriptions I have reviewed, has it been made a core part of the role to: “Facilitate sneaking around to covertly seek out current internal leads, connecting those with other areas of the firm independent of any unprompted input by Partners and Fee Earners, who are not necessarily open to sharing said leads”. Let’s be honest, I know of very few fee earners who independently and voluntarily proffer their leads for the wolves to descend upon. It is more likely they covet them to ensure they are in control of the opportunity (as narrow as it might be in it’s current guise). This is especially true in an eat-what-you-kill environment which many firms still are. Again, this may be implied that at senior levels in a BD role this is what you do.
To really succeed at this, without constantly involving yourself with every single opportunity across the board, which at a global or even national level is neigh on impossible, how can we as BD professionals add maximum value to the constantly moving pipeline to the benefit of multiple departments and/or jurisdictions…. without putting partners off-side for ‘stealing’ their potential client?
Well my friends, I don’t necessarily have the answer. A bathos I am sure… Apologies! I am positive there is a process map for this somewhere out there. On a more local level, I often put the onus on my fee earners to bring to the table the opportunities they are working on on a regular basis and encouraging (nay gently insisting) that they ‘share’ those leads and encourage involvement from other departments at an early stage to support them. Note the positive use of the word ’support’, not ’steal’. I have in the past done this in an open forum where opportunities are discussed and real concerns are heard around the potential to derail an opportunity if we turn ’all-sales-on-them’. Fee earners can often smell the tacky odour of sales and back away quickly. I have therefore made sure there is no forced involvement once the opportunity is heard and we are working within the comfort zone of a few nervous individuals.
The positive is that this process indeed opened the conversation and dialogue and we were able to track and monitor those leads, as well as the involvement of other departments or specialists. i.e. they were no longer hidden and the group no longer unaware, therefore I was be relieved from my role as connector-of-the-dots, they have done it themselves. My deerstalker can be put away!
On one level this is a very basic solution, but for those working with lawyers, I am sure you are well aware of the reluctance at times to involve the BD team for fear we will hijack their fairly innocent opportunity. Therefore, we are again back to the role as internal communicators to facilitate this sharing of new opportunities in a gentle and guided fashion. Gently does it.
I would be very happy to hear from anyone with a more sophisticated approach to really maximising on the often siloed opportunities around the Firm and how you have successfully ‘connected the dots’. This is an ongoing challenge for our profession I fear so all input appreciated.